Guide dogs yet to be wholly accepted in Malaysia


PETALING JAYA: The mall was bustling with Chinese New Year shoppers, but people still stopped in their tracks to stare at a bald man with sunglasses walking around the complex with a Labrador.

However, 54-year-old Stevens Chan is oblivious to the stir he causes when strolling through Sunway Pyramid. It has been 10 years since he lost his sight completely after suffering from glaucoma.

"I lost my sight gradually over the years, and by 2007 I had lost it completely," he said. 

Since losing his sight, Chan tends to depend on his wife to get around but is able to use his guide dog Lawshawn to walk to work and occasionally to the mall.

"I wish I could take him on the Komuter or a cab and just move around freely," he said, adding that Lawshawn is not allowed on public transport and some taxis as well as restaurants.

Chan said that many people are not used to seeing a guide dog in public places, especially shopping malls. 

He said that many assume that Lawshawn is a pet. He is not a pet, but a working dog. He is a "well trained and well disciplined dog". 

Lawshawn helps Chan maneuver through crowds, avoid accidents and provide increased accessibility on a daily basis.

Sunway Pyramid shopping mall is one of the few malls in Malaysia that allows the blind and their guide dogs to walk around inside the complex. 

"There is still a long way to go in educating the public on the idea that a guide dog can help the visually impaired to move around freely as a normal person," said Sunway Pyramid chief operating officer Kevin Tan.

"Everybody should receive the same privilege and enjoyment in life with or without aid," said Tan.

Tan hopes that his move to allow the blind and their guide dogs in Sunway Pyramid will be the first step in helping the public to be more accepting. 

Bar Council Human Rights Committee member Mohammad Faizal Che Yusof said that many Malaysians are not yet able to accept guide dogs in public places.

"Our culture is still not accepting of guide dogs," said Mohammad Faizal, who is visually impaired. 

Senator Bathmavathi Krishnan, who is a disabilities advocate, said that the lack of acceptance is due to "sensitivities and lack of awareness". 

"Living in a multi-religious society, guide dogs may be an issue with some Muslims," she said. 

"If more people start to bring them out, the public can get to see how effective the dogs are in helping the blind move around more confidently and independently," said Bathmavathi. 

"There has been heightened recognition, yet still a lot more has to be done," said Chan. 

Chan is still waiting for a response from the Transport Ministry and Welfare Ministry for an appointment to dialogue with them.

While Chan walks around Sunway Pyramid with Lawshawn, many people stop and stare, but nobody aired their judgment or discomfort.

Many shoppers said that they are accepting of Lawshawn and understands that he is helping Chan move around. 

"Malaysia's majority is Muslim, so it is a sensitive issue for us with the dog," said Sharifah Fiza, 31.

"However, personally I think it's okay. We just cannot touch the dog, that's all," said Sharifah, who is a mother to two children aged five and six.

20-year-old student Nicholas Tan said that as long as the dog does not bite or harm people, having a guide dog in public spaces is "fine with me".

However Malaysian retiree Joe Ng, who now lives in Vancouver, said that Western countries are more accepting of guide dogs in public areas while Asian countries like Malaysia "are not there yet". 

Nevertheless, Ng has hopes that one day Malaysia will be more open towards having guide dogs to aid the visually impaired.



   

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